Oconee County Commissioners approved a rezone request last night for a complex of auto dealerships on SR 316 at Virgil Langford Road after a public hearing lasting 115 minutes.
The vote was 2-1, with Commissioners Jim Luke and William “Bubber” Wilkes in favor of the rezone of the nearly 30 acres, and Commissioner Mark Saxon opposed.
The crowd of more than 135 packed Courtroom No. 1 at the Courthouse in Watkinsville, with a string of opponents expressing concerns about noise and light pollution, traffic and the overall impact of the project on their neighborhood.
Jon Williams of Williams and Associates, who presented the case for the rezone, was followed by a group of speakers, largely representing the development and business community, who said the project was good for the county.
The meeting followed another last night during which representatives of the Geogia Department of Transportation and its consulting firm told a group of about 35 that concerns of the community were going to dictate what is done with the proposed widening of U.S. 441 in the south of the county.
Williams told the commissioners that the rezone request by Elaine Duckett Crane, Mineral Bluff in north Georgia, and Lela Mae Moore Slaton, 1050 Jimmy Daniell Road., will be good for the county because it will create new jobs and increase tax revenue.
|Saxon, Gesturing, With Wilkes On Left|
Goodloe Yancey, who lives on Phinizy Court north of Watkinsville, spoke in favor of the project, saying that Mercedes Benz of Athens, the only identified dealership planning to move to the complex, will be a “solid community partner.”
A. Perry, 1030 Jimmy Daniell Road, who lives near the intersection of Virgil Langford Road and Jimmy Daniell Road, just behind the proposed dealership complex, led off those speaking in opposition, arguing that “there will be more noise, there will be more light, there will be more traffic” as a result of it.
The Planning Commission, after a similar hearing on May 16, voted 5 to 3 to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it deny the request to rezone the land from agricultural use to business use.
The BOC, again with Saxon dissenting, approved a special exception variance for the dealership project to eliminate the required landscape buffers between commercial and residential land uses.
The Planning Commission does not make recommendations on variance requests.
The Commission last night also approved a rezone request by Extreme Fireworks of Alpharetta to allow operation of a year-round retail fireworks store in Manders Crossing shopping center at Cliff Dawson Road and Mars Hill Road.
It also approved a request by Vintage Oak Farm at 6305 Hog Mountain Road to bring an existing operation of a reception hall on agricultural land into compliance with county ordinances by rezoning the land for commercial use.
Both of those votes were unanimous and had been recommended by the Planning Commission.
Budget And Utility
The BOC, despite the objections of residents concerned about the Utility Department and the Parks and Recreation Department budgets, approved the county’s Fiscal year 2017 budget unanimously.
The budget reflects a nearly 22 percent increase over the current fiscal year and includes an estimated average 5 percent increase in property taxes.
The commissioners also approved a series of contracts for Utility Department projects, again over the objections of residents.
Those objections reflected the continuing opposition of citizens living along Calls Creek and elsewhere in the county to the proposed pipeline down Calls Creek to handle treated wastewater from an expanded Calls Creek plant.
U.S. 441 Meeting
The meeting on the widening of U.S. 441 and a possible bypass of Bishop took place at the Community Center in Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road. The meeting began officially at 5:30 and ended just before 7 p.m.
Cynthia Burney, a GDOT program manager based in Atlanta, opened the meeting by introducing a team representing Parsons Brinckerhoff, with offices in Atlanta, a GDOT contractor for the environmental work on the project.
The team has the responsibility of seeking community input on the project, and Claudia Bilotto told those present that “we want to hear from you.”
Bilotto proposed that the existing Sounding Board, appointed by the Oconee County BOC, be expanded to include members from Morgan County, but that idea was rejected by Rep. Chuck Williams and others at the meeting.
In the end, Bilotto and Burney accepted the idea that a single member from Morgan County be added to the Oconee County group and at least one person from Oconee County serve on a parallel board in Morgan County.
They also seemed to agree that a member of the citizen group Positively Oconee be added to the Oconee County advisory board.
The project is to extend 17 miles from the Watkinsville Bypass to the Madison Bypass in Morgan County.
Burney stressed again that no route has been approved at present and even went so far as to say that GDOT could cancel the project if the community did not support it.
Despite that, Burney did present an approximate cost for the project of $133.2 million
An open house on a proposed concept plan and route is scheduled to be held in the spring of 2017, and a revised plan and route is scheduled to be ready in the summer of 2017.
Preliminary plans are to be completed in the spring of 2018, with right of way acquisition to begin in the summer of that year.
The project is scheduled to be let for construction in the spring of 2021.
The complete video of the U.S. 441 Sounding Board meeting is below.
The video of the meeting of the Board of Commissioners meeting is below, minus 30 minutes at the end that inadvertently were not recorded. Sarah Bell did the BOC recording since I could not attend both meetings.